Tommy Hilfiger | There’s No School like the Old School


Tommy Hilfiger is a name known worldwide and yet, like many of the top brands nesting at the zenith of the fashion industry, it came from humble beginnings. Tommy Hilfiger was once a little grassroots company based in downtown Elmira, New York. The flagship store was founded with a meagre $150, courtesy of the eponymous young entrepreneur, whose only fashion experience was the selling of customised jeans and bell-bottoms. Nonetheless Mr Hilfiger was determined to earn success for his store, which he called ‘The People’s Place’. However, after several years, the fledgling project failed and the founder was forced to turn his hand to designing collections for the high-end stores of upstate New York. Despite being in-demand Hilfiger stayed relatively poor and turned down many lucrative offers from the likes of Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis. Indeed he held-out for a very long time, until finally, in 1985, he acquired the means to create the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation.

In its later years Tommy Hilfiger gained global acclaim and cleverly associated itself with some of the world’s finest pop musicians, like Beyoncé.

But, when it started out, it was victim to a period of slow and staggered growth. It took a great deal of time to establish its long-held reputation as a purveyor of well-designed luxury clothing and 90’s cool. Then, when Hilfiger found its stride, it also matched the fluctuating rhythm of those seasonal patterns that shape the market. Unfortunately it peaked before the turn of the century and spiralled into the traps of baggy street-wear and oversized logos. The brand became too visible, striving too hard for recognition and meeting naught but the often fierce resistance of the U.S. market. It seemed destined to follow the folly of the mid-range clothing company, Mossimo, which grew too fast, expanded too quickly and then shrivelled like an overblown balloon. Suddenly retailers were being forced to mark Hilfiger down to discount prices, muddying the nationwide perception of the brand. That being said, though, there was a silver lining in the form of the tightly-run European Hilfiger division. While the U.S. Hilfiger stores floundered those in Europe slid coolly back to basics, adopting a restrained approach that kept the business calm and protected the brand.

The Hilfiger bods were faced with a difficult decision regarding the future of the company. Where many other brands would’ve felt the keen sting of desperation and run madly towards the biggest and boldest option, Tommy Hilfiger instead decided to shrink and regroup. This strategy was driven by a centralised effort to reinforce the Hilfiger brand and reintroduce its representatives to the simple vision of its founder. All eyes turned to the stable helm of the European design centre, which was detached from the U.S. operations. Steered by the panache of CEO Fred Gehring, the popularity of Tommy Hilfiger in Europe was leaving their rudderless U.S. counterpart for dead. Soon it became apparent that the whole brand needed to revert back to its casual luxury origins. Having scaled-back their presence in the U.S., Hilfiger re-tailored their brand to better suit certain regions. It also made considered investments in collection design, fashion shows, as well as high-profile collaborations with cultural icons.




I guess you’re probably wondering if the stripped-back strategy paid off, right? Well, I don’t have access to their overheads, nor should we be able to discern success if I did; what I can show you, though, is one of our favourite retro-styled Hilfiger watches. We don’t know if it’s the minimalist leather strap or the beautiful metallic sheen of the cream dial, but we just had to share this piece. Come to think of it, maybe it’s the fact that this watch, like the rest of Tommy Hilfiger, is a symbol of the valuable truism that bigger isn’t always synonymous with better.